Yukon: Canada’s highest per capita death rate from opioids

As the doors of Yukon’s Carcross Tagish First Nation administration office closed for the night, vans took to the road and drove through communities, stocking naloxone to cure overdoses, drug test kits, food and even the suffering people. provide a friendly face to help with the opioid crisis.

Stacy Robinson-Brown, director of health and wellness for the country, said the new outreach vans — a common tool in Canada’s metropolitan centers — are operating three days a week, allowing more people to do so after hours. You can earn “boots in the field” and connect. Provide assistance to those who may be in need in a community of over 700 people.

“Not all crises occur by 5 p.m.,” she said.

Robinson Brown said he wants to meet people where they are and perhaps help pull them out of the deep sea and start a healthier life.

“Even if we can change some people’s lives in terms of use, I think it makes a difference in the world.”

The Yukon Territory faces Canada’s highest per capita death rate from illegal drugs, but indigenous peoples in the region say toxic drugs are disproportionately affecting their people. Two countries have declared states of emergency as members have died from overdoses.

Carcross Tagish First Nation declared a state of emergency over the opioid crisis in January 2022, and in six days, three citizens died of overdoses, Robinson-Brown said. At the same time, there have been many non-fatal overdoses that just “never make the news.”

The Yukon government declared a “drug use health emergency” shortly afterward, and earlier this year, Mayo’s Nacho Nyak Dang indigenous peoples “terrorized” citizens and families through violence, crime and overdoses. We have declared our own opioid emergency for the “trapping” situation. and death.

Yukon’s chief medical examiner, Heather Jones, reported 25 deaths last year attributed to toxic substances. The per capita rate is worse than B.C., where he had the highest death toll in the country, with 2,272 of his suspected drug addiction deaths last year.

Of the 20 opioid-related deaths, 17 died in Whitehorse, Jones said, but Robinson-Brown said coroners weren’t asking where people lived, but where they were when they died. We believe these figures underestimate the number of people, as they only record how many people were there. in a struggling community outside Whitehorse.

“I’m guessing at this point that the vast majority of people who have suffered or have experienced an overdose will have an ambulance or someone else take them to Whitehorse and be close enough. Head to Whitehorse because it’s the only general hospital.

Robinson Brown said it’s a crisis that looks different in small communities compared to urban centers.

Her department of about 25 people provides everything from social assistance to outreach, justice and other programs to those living in traditional territories, where one-third of Indigenous citizens live.

This means that staff often have multiple “different hats” when someone asks for help.

Moreover, many families in small communities are connected and have known each other throughout their lives.

“We hired some staff members. We hired some staff members who were making comments like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know these people.’ They made them happy and carefree.” It’s hard to see them because I remember them as young people,” she said.

“So when you think about all the family ties, and not just being in the community, but knowing them in a different capacity, I think it’s really eye-opening.”

For some people, being able to ask for help from people they know makes the process easier, while others are hesitant to share their struggles with someone with history.

Across the territory, indigenous peoples are overrepresented in the opioid crisis. Of his 25 deaths from toxic drugs reported last year, 17 — about two-thirds — were identified as First Nations, Jones said. The Yukon Territory Bureau of Statistics projects that her 22.3% of the entire territory’s population is Indigenous.

Last week, First Nations across the Territory marched to light the sacred fire following Nacho Nyak Dang’s First Nation state of emergency declaration and two murders in the community.

Chadelle Chambers, executive director of the Yukon Indigenous Council, said remembrances like these bring the crisis to the attention of the public, show solidarity and help people process their grief for all that has been lost. It is intended to

She said the council-promoted declaration of a territorial state of emergency would include expansion and research into harm reduction options, expansion of safe consumption sites in Whitehorse, inclusion of areas for inhalants, and changes to include research into safe supplies. said to be ahead of

“This is a very complex issue and one government cannot be expected to do this. It really needs to be considered by communities, Yukon Indigenous peoples and governments at all levels. How can we address this crisis? , can we work towards a solution,” she said.

The council has nearly completed the business case for the proposed Yukon Indigenous Healing Center, she said. She also sends about 300 people to private treatment outside the Yukon and works with hundreds of families on programs specifically designed to keep children out of foster care.

Chambers said strategies are needed to work with young people and families to prevent trauma and consider issues such as housing and cost of living issues.

“We cannot address the opioid crisis without looking at all other socioeconomic factors.”

She said the area is grappling with similar opioid use problems as Vancouver’s downtown East Side, including crime, gang activity, and First Nations women’s victimization, but on a smaller scale.

“With a smaller jurisdiction, I hope we can be more agile and respond to things quickly, but this is a complex issue. I don’t think there is one quick solution,” she said.

Chambers said more financial and human resource support is needed both in Whitehorse and in communities outside the capital.

Whitehorse residents have access to programs that provide a safe supply of medically prescribed opioids, but they must be administered by a pharmacist and are not an option in rural areas.

“So how do we consider virtual options? What about these extensions? How do we make safe drug test kits available to each community, not just 9 to 5? We need to support organizations to do more work in ,” she said.

Yukon’s Minister of Health and Social Services, Tracy Ann McPhee, said a health emergency strategy for committed drug use in the region is in the final stages of development and will be released “as soon as possible” with recommendations. Stated.

“This drug use health emergency isn’t going away any time soon. It’s definitely not going away while I’m sitting in this chair,” she said.

She said the government works with each community to identify their specific needs and adjusts its approach accordingly.

Indigenous people of Nacho Nyak Dang met with government officials and the RCMP following the state of emergency declaration.

Since then, Prime Minister Ranji Pillai has sent a letter to Sheikh Simon Marvin offering a range of potential assistance, including making more councilors available and developing community-led restorative justice initiatives. Did.

McPhee said the region is working with all communities to expand drug testing capacity through local health centers and elsewhere.

“We will work with Yukon Indigenous Peoples, community partners and other governments to coordinate responses, implement harm reduction strategies to expand access to treatment and recovery services, and promote public education and awareness. We have worked tirelessly to increase the risk of substance use,” she said.

While Chambers said he believes the situation will improve, he also recognizes that there are systemic problems that indigenous peoples have faced for generations.

“The solutions may take decades and generations, but it’s really important that we see these small victories every day and that they keep us moving forward.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 30, 2023.

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